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USA-Portugal match breaks TV record for most-watched U.S. soccer match

U.S. Soccer World Cup Viewing Party - USMNT v Portugal Photo by


The U.S. Men’s National Team hasn’t made history for themselves yet during the 2014 World Cup, but they have made some television history.

The USA-Portugal game is now the most-watched U.S. soccer match ever with 18.22 million viewers watching Sunday as the Americans gave up a late lead to draw with Portugal on ESPN. The previous record was held by 1999 Women’s World Cup final when 17.97 million viewers watched as the U.S. won over China in penalty kicks on ABC.

Univision also posted its highest numbers for a U.S. soccer match with 6.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings, for a combined total of 24.7 million. That is equal to the viewership 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.

Sunday’s USA-Portugal match earned the highest-ever overnight ratings for a World Cup match on ESPN, with about 1 in 11 American homes watching the game.

The match drew a 9.1 household rating, meaning about 9 percent of households were watching the game on ESPN. The highest-rated World Cup match on ESPN up until that point was USA-Ghana, which drew a 7.0 rating.

The NBA Finals earlier this month posted an average rating of 9.3 average and the Stanley Cup, also this month, rated a 2.8. The recent World Series rated an average 8.9 average.

The top ten metered markets in overnight ratings for the USA-Portugal match were: Washington, DC (13.3), Columbus, Ohio (12.6), New York (12.5), Boston (11.5), Hartford & New Haven (11.3), Providence (11.2), Atlanta (11.1), Baltimore (11.0), Norfolk (10.5), and Orlando (10.5).

ESPN’s highest-rated markets on average are: Washington DC (5.0), New York (4.3), San Francisco (4.1), Orlando (3.8), and Los Angeles (3.7).

Another 490,000 people streamed the broadcast via the WatchESPN app.

On social media, there were 20 million Facebook interactions about the USA-Portugal match from about 10 million people. The most discussed moment of the match came in the second half when Clint Dempsey’s goal gave the Americans a 2-1 lead.

ESPN will not be hosting a World Cup again anytime soon, though. Fox has secured the rights for the next World Cups through 2022, starting with the Women’s World Cup next year.

What do you think of this news? Think the World Cup will set a new record if the USA advances to the Round of 16?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Chances are there were millions more watching in bars and at “watch parties”. How many people were at the chicago watch party? I am sure, outside of the 2 cities involved, that the NHL finals did not have these watch parties. This is pretty awesome to witness.

  2. The hope is that our first Ronoldo, Neymar, and Messi are watching these games. Their mom & dad may be exposing them to the highest level of soccer for the first time and now they have the drive to become a world class soccer star rather than baseball, basketball, or football.

    • That’s happening. Where have you been? Take a look at some of our U-whatever alumni. Of course it’s impossible to say any of them will be the next Messi – couldn’t say that about anyone at 18 years old. But we have some talent rising.

      With JK or without, this thing was about to take off anyway. Look at Zardes out in LA, who had Hogsdon himself trying to work out an EPL contract but who chose MLS. Flores at Dortmund. Rubin who just graduated high school and signed with Utrecht. Pelosi at Liverpool…

      I remember when the only guys we had in Europe were keepers. Then slowly a few of our bigger name field players starting breaking in. Right now, it’s more than a national team in numbers. The kids following can be described as a flood. Plus we have kids who could go to Europe, like Zardes, who are choosing MLS because they want to stay close to home.

      In eight years, we may not be favored in the World Cup, but no one – no one – is going to look past us anymore (if anyone does now).

      • Paul, while I enjoy your enthusiasm, it must be tempered. I have been involved in soccer for roughly 3 1/2 decades since I was toddler. We have a deeper pool, but NONE of the kids you mentioned is a Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar. They might be good enough to someday start for an elite team, which is something upon itself (and I think a group of those players is much better than having 1 player is arguably the best in the world), but to be considered at that level, you have stood out by 21. Neymar is 22 and already considered one of the best in the world. Messi is 26 and has been playing for Barcelona A team since he was 17. He won his first Balloon D’Or at 22!!!! Ronaldo is 28/29 and was named to UEFA team of the year BEFORE he was 20 years old. He won his first Balloon D’Or at 22 as well. He was the leading scorer in all of Europe at 23.

        None of the players you mentioned are at that level.

  3. These ratings should be the last bit of evidence that convince MLS to spend MORE money on players and raise the salary cap significantly. Ratings and polls in recent years for soccer have consistently been on the rise. I respect MLS business model and slow growth strategy, but now is the time to push things to another level. At least raise the cap to compete with the Mexican league. Americans will not watch in numbers on TV unless we can bring in star quality players, this seems to be the last piece of the puzzle for the league. This World Cup should be the clincher that convinces the league executives that it is now safe to take more financial risks on players. It surely is wonderful for soccer fans who have taken the ride over the last couple decades to see first hand how much the sport has grown. It’s now time for MLS to do its part and keep the momentum going.

    • They’ve wisely taken a conservative route, and I don’t see that ending now. First the more lucrative TV contracts, then the higher salaries. Doing it the other way is going on risk, for names existing soccer fans might like but the majority of Americans don’t know. Face it, we aren’t going to get Messi. And in terms of U.S. players, I’d guess the best known name is still, sadly, Freddy Adu.

      Build slowly, one step at a time. Shoot for two much and it goes belly up like the old Cosmos, even with an aging Pele, aging Cruyff, etc.

    • (I am different Paul – might have to change the handle)

      I think the reason so many people watch is (1) not just the quality of the games, but also (2) also because they are invested in the jingoistic nationalism of our national team fighting against bigger, better teams. The Olympics does great numbers for gymnastics and track and field, but how many people actually watch that during the non-Olympic cycle. I think it is truly important to identify the true reasons for the increase before trying to capitalize on it.

  4. Once the WatchESPN numbers are added in total viewers for US-Portugal will likely have exceeded the most recent BCS Championship game numbers. Wow!

  5. Wait why does the 1999 Women’s World Cup have a higher rating, but USA-Portugal has higher viewers??? Also if an estimated 40 million watched the 99 USA-China final (including bars/groups), does that mean about the same may have watched USA-Portugal?

  6. Being a Communications major in college. I agree, that the marketing for MLS during the WC should be rapidly pushed and showed.

  7. MLS needs better PR.

    If you have 18 million fans watching a game with the US, target them. hell maybe you get 10% of them and convert them to watching MLS. Total success. they need to hurry it up

    • Agreed. Everyone knows Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi by now, but not everyone knows they play domestically. Time to call the Mad Men guys and work some PR magic… or, you know, just advertise MLS using Dempsey and Zusi.

  8. The winner here is US Soccer, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL. You are going to see better ticket sales and higher TV ratings for competitive USA games going forward, including the Gold Cup, World Cup qualifiers, and the Pan-Am Cup (I’m not calling it Copa America Cenenario every time). Very possible we’re now in a place where the USA will be able to play World Cup qualifiers at Mile High rather than Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – or where we can play Mexico in, say Foxborough rather than Columbus and know that 80% of the fans will be pro-USA and sell out. Our national team is becoming as popular as many other countries. We’re not delivering 80% shares like they are in Germany or wherever, but it’s still becoming a cultural touchstone.

    Second winner is Clint Dempsey. The guy is making casual fans forget all about Donovan. If he can keep this up, he ought to be able to really monetize his performance with endorsements and etc. Seattle (Portland won’t like to hear this) may be about to become the Yankees of MLS. Would have been interesting if Portland had ponied up for one of our big stars like Bradley to bring even more neutrals into that rivalry.

    Ideally, this will help MLS but I don’t know if I think there will be much beyond a short term bump. Bradley is up in Toronto and has played poorly; Dempsey is somewhere where the fan base is already pretty established (although this might just help Seattle open up the rest of the stadium!). But is this going to really boost attendance in Columbus or DC or New York? I’m not so certain. When the cup ends, the curious are going to be turned off by the fact that they already missed half the MLS season. The curious (like me) who live outside an MLS market will still not have much reason to follow the league other than following players that I like.

      • Do you like jumping into a movie halfway through? People like quality sports, but you build a fanbase with storylines. Look at any European paper or, heck, American coverage of the other big sports. Are the articles filled with tactical analysis? No, they’re filled with storylines for the games.

        I just think “Follow some of your favorite World Cup players as they kick off the new MLS season!” is more appealing than “Follow your some of your favorite World Cup players as they are halfway on their journey to finish in the top half of their conference!”

        It’s very difficult to pick up on halfway through. If you don’t want to go to fall-winter, fine. Do Apertura-Clausura. But there’s no reason the US couldn’t have a Danish-style schedule beginning in mid-July (week after the World Cup) and finishing up in May with a nice, long winter break in the middle. We’re already playing in March and November. All I’m asking is let’s not play in June.

      • Have you been in Boston in November or February. I have and it sucks. I would not want to run around in shorts.

      • Have you ever been to the northern half of the US in winter? It’s no time to sit outside for two hours and watch soccer, I can tell you that much.

        The fact that MLS is halfway through its season will have little to no impact on new fans’ interest after the world cup.

    • Casual fans ignore the regular season and watch the playoffs every year. The fact that MLS is in the middle of its season means squat.

      I didn’t see much MLS advertising in Hawaii this past week. But, now that I’m home, I expect it see more.

      • Casual fans don’t, by and large, follow the MLS Playoffs at all. Their best ratings are usually in the leadup to and aftermath of the World Cup or for friendlies against European teams.

        I’m not advocating playing in February guys, although MLS has done so in the past. Denmark doesn’t. I’m saying keep, roughly, the same schedule as now but finish the same time as the Europeans and then start back in July right after the World Cup. With that long winter break. Send your best players to Europe or South America on loan; have the rest play in a warm weather league in Cali or Florida. Really, I’m just saying reorient the season rather than changing too much.

  9. 1) FIFA WC 2022 to the US needs to happen. We’ve shown up in Brazil and shown that we are true fans. Brazil is averaging around 50,929 fans we could easily pull off 75,000 and draw way more advertising money.

    2) ESPN, FOX and UNIVISION really got a sweet deal off MLS with the TV rights deal. $90M a year is starting to look like the sweetest deal in the world and it’s from 2015-2022. If Klinsmann really pulls this magic off and makes us contenders it’ll make the deal sweeter for those 3 networks.

    • That’s good info JR.
      also I think to date,
      the U.S. has the largest world cup attendance record?.
      and that was twenty years and five world cups ago.

      • Because we love sports and spectacle. No one does major sporting events like the US, even when we’re only kind of lukewarm on the sport. Now, imagine 2026 in the US – several years after Americans realized, “Hell, soccer is legit afterall.”

    • I am all for giving 2022 to Australia or England. England last hosted the World Cup in ’66. That is 50 years ago. We hosted it in ’94. They seem to be the ones doing the heavy investigations, give it to them. Plus it will be easier travel. If they want to hold it outside Europe, Australia. The Aussies have never hosted it and they have the infrastructure (between all their soccer and rugby stadiums). People forget that soccer fields are much bigger than football fields, but on par with rugby fields.

      I don’t Qatar should have it, but I don’t think we should have it so soon after we last hosted it either. Especially when there are other countries that could easily host it.

      • We were second in the vote. it’s only logical that it goes to second place if first place cheated

      • I was going to say that England can’t have it since it would be Europe 2 years in a row, but it’s not like FIFA ever follows their own rules anyways, so I guess that could work.

  10. every four years it gets bigger and bigger..

    well actually i doubt that FOX will get numbers this big at 5:00 AM in 2018 & 2022

    this WC is absolutely amazing and I am amazed how big it is across the nation.

      • 2026 – USA

        if 2022 Qatar doesn’t work out that’s FIFA’s problem and they should probably just cancel the event — we are not their back up option that doesn’t get any respect until we are needed.

      • I’m sure the Aussies will have the sense not to construct a beautiful, huge stadium in the outback where it would never be used again.

    • yes, but if marketed right, the Copa America anniversary which will include CONCACAF and COMNEBOL teams and be hosted here in the USA could make the next two WC tourneys look like an afterthought.

      as an aside, I’m actually a little afraid that if Qatar 2022 goes through, between the investigative journalism that will reveal Russian bribes and a Qatari body count, FIFA as a world body will have lost so much credibility by 2021 that the Champions league, EPL, and other domestics will say to heck with this, we’re not releasing our A-teamers for the 2022 world cup…

  11. The key will be how MLS capitalizes on the success of the World Cup. They should be advertising commercials all throughout the World Cup, but I have yet to see one commercial for it. MLS has to have the worst marketers of any professional sports league in the US. If I were Don Garber I would be trying to figure out how to get most TV commercials on the air now during the World Cup to lure more fans. If not, these ratings really mean nothing for the growth of the sport.

      • There’s a definite opportunity to turn some of the casual fans who only watch the world cup into bigger fans. I was watching with a large group of friends yesterday, many of whom are World Cup only type fans, but a number of them expressed interest in coming to a RBNY game with me once MLS restarts. Hopefully the experience of coming to Harrison doesn’t turn them off too much. That can be a real gut punch!

      • Too right. Well spotted. OTOH, USSOCCER is twitter-marketing this thing to the max, and bringing in tons of supporters from across the US sports-scape. Pretty slick.

      • It’s probably more of a local market call. I definitely saw NE Revs ads on the ABC broadcast last week. I’m mostly watching ESPN3, so I’m not sure if they made any ESPN ad buys for local commercials.

      • I saw plenty of ads showing MLS Players playing in the World Cup and what country they are from. They didn’t even showcase all of the (None of the Honduran players were featured). Maybe you guys don’t live in the right market.

      • That’s probably because you’re taking breaks during halftime to pee.

        I’ve definitely seen the “For club and country” MLS ad on ESPN in both the DC and BOS markets.

    • Maybe they just don’t have the money or there are too many official Fifa sponsors that get in line ahead of them.

      I wish they would find a way though…

    • MLS is all over the WC marketing.. to a point that is kinda over the top.. but when USA, Costa Rica, Honduras (maybe), Tim Cahill and others are making international headlines its a job well done.

    • +1 … have commercials with MLS players in the World Cup … do a “for club and for country” kind of thing … it’ll be cool. Isn’t ESPN in on the MLS TV rights?

    • +1 Beats by Dre have been bombarding us with advertising and MLS is no where to be found. Shameful on the part of MLS marketing department.

      • I get the point, but probably a wee bit unrealistic to expect MLS to compete with Apple’s marketing budget.

    • NBC has nothing to do with the World Cup yet they are doing a great job of using it to their benefit. All I ever see from them are EPL commercials (and I love it) detailing key players and what country they play for, saying something like “This happens every weekend,” or something.

      ESPN has done well with the WC coverage but I worry about Fox going forward… their UCL and FA Cup coverage was absolutely ATROCIOUS. Don’t even get me started on Gus Johnson.

      NBC should do all Soccer IMO

    • The key isnt MLS marketing. Or more casual soccer fan at a pub. The key is to attract more young, gifted athletes into playing the game. And with JK’s revamped youth system, maybe churn out a few more stars than the average cycle.

    • David Villa, Tim Cahill, and Deuce among others have done a good job promoting MLS.
      I would even add Cesar?, although he seems half the keep he used to be.

    • What gut punch?

      We have 4 points. This is the group of death. That was freaking Ronaldo out there. Everything is going well.

    • It was a gut punch but for 80% of viewers who are neutral (i.e. they don’t watch soccer) this was perfect.

      Both of our games have been filled with drama and are exactly the type of back and forth, attacking games we need to convince more people to watch the game.

      Yes, it was a guy punch but that’s drama. The first game had us take an early lead then watch three of our starters get injured, one fighting through with a broken nose. The team holds on for the win, gets scored on with little time left and Brooks’ heroics for the win. American drama at its best.

      Against Portugal, we get scored on straight away. The team gathers itself and fights back for a dramatic would-be win, until it’s stolen away at the very last second.

      The first game was Star Wars, the second was Empire Strikes Back, hopefully the third is Return of the Jedi so we have a happy ending. So far, the first two games are almost 100% along the lines of movie drama, typical three-act narrative structure.

      • Based on a lot of the uninformed comments I have been reading about this game, can we stop convincing new people to like the game?

      • Wholeheartedly agree. It’s getting to the point where I can’t watch games in bars anymore because of all the ridiculous talk among fools. I would be happy if the growth of soccer fandom in the US stopped now.

      • I reckon I can go ahead and croak now, I’ve seen it all: soccer games explicated through Lit-Crit by way of the Star Wars trilogy… and for dessert, soccer fans ready for the game’s growth here in the US to stop now, so we don’t have to listen to the nimrods anymore.

      • Oh please, like you have some monopoly on watching soccer. I’m sure you were fluent in the game from the first time you watched it as well.

        Just get a grip and enjoy the fact that you can watch soccer in any bar in the country right now. Who cares about what other people say or do?

      • Bringing these new fans into the fold. Let’s not go all hipster on US soccer when it is expanding and blooming before our eyes. This is not a niche sport that we want to keep privy for only a few individuals to enjoy; this is the beautiful game, the world’s game, that we love and will bring joy to many more.

      • Thank you Alan.
        Sometimes people forget,
        it’s the worlds game.
        Thank god we’re out of the dark ages.

      • Arthur and Josh D.
        you also get a +10 for Pele.
        Now we just got to make that German connection?.

      • If you want to know what awaits us, listen to BBC’s “606 Football phone in” via podcast. Every fourth caller is so mind-numbingly wrong that you think you’re listening to Education Theorists discussing how the internet has made us stupid because no one reads anymore. Remember, the more people like something, the more dumb people like something.

      • Ignorant people are only ignorant until they learn and understand the game. Don’t be that hipstery lame-o who says, “I liked soccer before it was cool.” Just be happy the game is growing, and know it still has a LONG ways to go in this country.

      • The first game was Star Wars, the second was Empire Strikes Back, hopefully the third is Return of the Jedi so we have a happy ending. So far, the first two games are almost 100% along the lines of movie drama, typical three-act narrative structure.

        Aristotle, who loved unity in drama, is applauding somewhere. Soccer is bringing out everyone this time—the pointy-headed grad students among them.

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